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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
15 July 2003
Broadcast, Pendulum (Warp)
After an absence of far too long, Broadcast finally return with a six track EP entitled Pendulum, their first new material since 2000's Extended Play 2. The eponymous opening track (the sole tune to be taken from their forthcoming album hahasound) is a stunning collision of droning keyboards, rolling drums and sinister childlike vocals, invoking both the icy retro-futurism of Barbarella and the demonic scares of Grimm's fairytales. The rest of the EP isn't quite as wonderfully glacial, ranging as it does from the initially startling but ultimately bloody annoying Gene Krupa meets Faust experiments of "Violent Playground" and "One Hour Empire" to the more languorous seductions of "Small Song IV" and "Still Feels Like Tears". The frankly baffling closing track "Minus Two", meanwhile, is a patchwork of album samples and cut-ups created in collaboration with the Birmingham Electro Acoustic Sound Theatre that sounds like a cat walking up and down a Korg keyboard. Unless you're a connoisseur of experimental music, it should be approached with caution. Pendulum then -- a frustrating record, filled with the expected flashes of motorik brilliance but hampered by stretches of sluggish indulgence. As a taster for hahasound, this is merely the breadcrumb trail through the forest. Bring on the gingerbread house.
Cul De Sac, Death of the Sun (Strange Attractors)
Since Cul De Sac are an instrumental band it is probably best that we get some things out of the way. Yes they do occasionally delve into post-jazz noodling, however that is about as close as they are going to come to Sea and Cake. Furthermore, while they do ratchet up the sound from time to time, they are not in the Mogwai camp either. Finally, while they do feature a turntablist/synthesizer man they are not treading on Tortoise's hallowed ground. Instead, Cul De Sac take a more global approach to songwriting, borrowing a little bit from everywhere, dumping it into a blender and seeing what comes out. The result is Death of the Sun, the Boston based bands first proper studio album in over four years. Although they have added John LeMaster on bass and violin and Jake Trussell as the turntable/electronics man, the stars of this album are guitarist Glenn Jones and drummer Jon Proudman. Jones' interest in Middle Eastern chords immediately pays dividends on ""Bamboo Rockets, Half Lost in Nothingness". The song is built around his amazing guitar playing as he builds a sonic tapestry that starts with some fairly generic sitar-like plucking before building into a frenzied solo. "Turkok, Son of Stone" is Proudman's turn to shine, as his powerful coda propels the song. Trussell's contributions are most noticeable on the title track where he uses sampled female vocals to paint a picture out of Arabian Nights. The closing track is "I Remember Nothing More", a track that is backed by the sample of an old Cajun song dug up by Jones. The sample transforms an ordinary guitar track into a fantastic journey through the bayou.
Carl Filipiak, Looking Forward, Looking Back (Geometric)
This is an ideal album for those who are into jazz guitar but want something that is neither too jazz FM-bland nor too fussily experimental. Filipiak loosely belongs to the '70s fusion tradition, to which he brings a touch of the blues/rock aesthetic. Here, however, he leans more heavily on the Benson/Martino sets of the '60s and has put together a gutsy and gripping hour of solid music that pushes no boundaries but rarely fails to please. Taking on John Coltrane ("Giant Steps"), Charlie Parker ("Au Privave"), Charles Mingus ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") and Nascimento ("Vera Cruz") without coming seriously unstuck is achievement enough in itself but the remaining original compositions are equally well crafted examples of small group, guitar-led grooves. Mention must be made of saxman Paul Soroka whose mixture of lyricism and gruff attack contributes greatly to the albums drive and sense of purpose. Whether on his self-penned "Brothers", gentle and one for smooth radio playlists,or on the tougher "Giant Steps" he shows real character and his interplay with Filipiak is a real delight. Filipiak is always the dominant voice though and has the right flow and fluency for the task in hand. He can be subtle and soothing ("I'm Only Dreaming") while kicking in harder when the time is right ("Au Privave", "Chasin the Checkbook"). The arrangements aren't always as imaginative as one might wish but this is all about intelligent, no-nonsense playing and that there is in abundant quantity. As it's a personal favourite, I'd pick "Vera Cruz" as the set's highspot, although there is a consistency throughout that should suit most fans of the, currently very healthy, six-string end of the jazz spectrum.
Ralph Boyd Johnson, Dyin' to Go (RBJDT)
I tried hard to like Ralph Boyd Johnson, but ultimately, the tired new country material on *Dyin to Go* just wouldn't allow me to. Opener "Mystery" is one of those contemporary country songs tunes that is somehow melodic yet forgettable at the same time, while the opening acoustic riff of "Bombed Out House" plaigirises Joe Diffie's "Bigger Than The Beatles" almost chord for chord. As if that wasn't dispiriting enough, Johnson seems intent on recycling every country music cliché ever heard in his lyrics and subject matter - a maverick renegade is given a particularly dismal portrayal in "Hard Act to Follow" while "Grease Fire Hot" contains the following lyrical gem: "Got
your grease fire hot/Got your ice house cold/Got you a motion moves body and soul". Although Johnson has a Steve Earle-type sound to his voice, "Hit the Deck" fails miserably to imitate "Copperhead Road" and his attempt at a rockabilly song, in "She Used to Worry" is even less impressive. The only salvation is the two spoken word pieces, "Ol' Black Crow" and "Ode to Steve", which end the album.
Mike West, New South (Squirrel Records/Binky)
New Orleans resident Mike West fits into a "mountain bluegrass" or hillbilly music genre that rarely sounds fresh. But it's rare that it sounds so good. From the opening banjo on "Dixie", West comes off as a cross between Burl Ives, Roger Miller and the Charlie Daniels Band, mixing a Southern charm with a whispering delivery. "Muleskinner Blues" could be culled from O Brother Where Art Thou, especially with its fiddle and pickin'. It's a real jugband feeling for most of the album, with nothing jumping out at the listener. "Mrs. Ernst's Piano" contains no piano but is a ballad as much about piano lessons as it is about segregation. The title track is a bouncy little affair with an infectious melody while "Loose Ends" is a softer singer-songwriter effort. A few don't quite hit the mark though as "Refrigerator" doesn't run as smooth as it could. Thankfully "Benny" and the Squirrel Nut Zippers-like "Disappearing Act" are far more reliable, working in West's favor. The charming tunes are the lengthy "The Blue & The Grey" and the delightful Celtic-tinged "Crown Of Thorns". "Love's Wake" isn't hard to take to as well as it West wastes no time getting to the crux of the song. It's an hour-long hootenanny that never gets boring or tired.
Various Artists, Asian Groove (Putumayo)
The past few years has marked a particularly fruitful period for popular music heavily spiced with Asian (especially South Asian) influences. One of the major centers for this development is Birmingham, England, a working-class city that is home to a large South Asian population. There, second- and third-generations of immigrant families, the youth with roots in the Punjab, began taking their parents' traditional music and giving it their own contemporary spin by ladling in large dollops of modern urban flavors like funk, reggae, electronica, and hip-hop. Asian Groove collects 11 contemporary songs that show the different directions this music can take as it fingers out into the global mainstream. Nitin Sahwney, DJ Baba G, and Bally Sagoo are among the major recognizable artists to the Western listener, though Sagoo nearly holds superstar status in Bollywood. Although this compilation is designed to be like a classy delicatessen, where the listener can have a taste of each, the spread on the table is just too widely laid with snacks. Those already familiar with Sahwney, DJ Baba G, and Bally Sagoo will have bought their records and are taking off on future explorations from there. The unfamiliar listener though curious may just be confused by the menu, their taste buds baffled by the competing flavors. Doubtful that many will grab straightaway for a second helping of Indo-jazz but more likely to return to make a major meal of the several genuine stand out vocal tracks. While there's no accounting for individual tastes, the most satisfying selections here are represented by the very songs that have remained closest to the roots. Susheela Raman as a singer is a knockout. Though her "Mamavatu" includes bongos, funky guitar, and cello, she belts out lyrics in Tamil and is a most talented and charismatic singer. DJ Baba G, credited as the creator of a dance music called Goa Trance, continues fusing traditional Indian music with techno and ambient music. Here, he teams up with hip-hop producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura to reinvent a traditional qawwali passionately delivered by Pakistani singer Badar Ali Khan. "Black Night" is the remarkable result of their experiment, heavy in the rhythmic groove, complete with scratches and samples, but altogether a beautiful, and yes, entrancing blend. If the listener hasn't heard Susheela Raman or DJ Baba G before, the strength of their music here should be enticement enough to actively seek out a heaping platterful.
Various Artists, Pure 60's - The Definitive 60's Hits Collection (UTV)
Firstly, I'd like to say to all these record labels that you're abusing the apostrophe. I'm not sure when these folks are going to learn that when talking about a decade, the apostrophe comes first as in "'60s" and not "60's". Now write that down, UTV and all other would-be compilers. Now that that's out of the way I'd also like to say that Pure 60's is hardly "The Definitive 60's Hits Compilation". This is another one of those mix discs of familiar mid-'60s-to-Summer of Love-hits that have been sold a million times before under a million other names. One more reason for you to go out and support Kazaa, Morpheus, et al. Seriously, why do the labels keep cranking out the same old product at the same old high prices when this is exactly one of the main reasons why folks buy CD-Rs and burn their own discs? Who knows. In short, you get 26 tracks here, all of which were huge hits and remain favorites on all your standard classic light rock stations. Take your pick from Del Shannon's "Runaway", Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", The Troggs' "Wild Thing", The Association's "Windy", Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints", and The 5th Dimension's "Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In" to name but a few. The songs aren't bad at all, but the product is seriously pointless. If you're not a fan of downloading tunes on your own time, then Pure 60's is a pretty decent thrown together batch of tunes that basically can't miss. But honestly, I believe the days of the K-Tel revolution are seriously over (save for that continually confounding NOW series) what with CD-Rs, MP3 players, and the like. Can we say cha-ching? UTV can.
.: posted by Editor 2:00 PM